EU ratifies its first trade agreement with an animal welfare condition


EU ratifies its first trade agreement with an animal welfare condition

22 November 2023
Press Release
Today, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved the EU-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. The deal sets a precedent in trade policy as it’s the first time the EU ratifies a trade agreement which conditions market access on the respect of animal welfare-related standards.

Under negotiation for five years, the deal liberalises trade in most animal based products, and should hence further stimulate animal agriculture in the EU and New Zealand. It does, however, include an unprecedented condition: the beef quota is reserved for grass-fed animals, explicitly excluding feedlots. And this condition is  motivated by both animal welfare and sustainability reasons.

This is only the second time the EU has negotiated an animal welfare condition in a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) since the controversial EU-Mercosur FTA introduced the first one in relation to shelled eggs. Yet, while the volume of shelled eggs imported by the EU from Mercosur countries is quite low, in the case of New Zealand the EU managed to obtain an animal welfare condition for one of the most traded animal products between the partners. 

Eurogroup for Animals welcomes this animal welfare condition as feedlots, in addition to being a major source of soil, air and water pollution, are highly detrimental to animals: they can provoke respiratory and digestive diseases, the main causes of cattle death under such rearing conditions.

This animal welfare condition shows that with the right political willingness, the EU can take into account animal welfare concerns in its trade policy. As the latest Eurobarometer showed, this is well supported by EU citizens. This FTA should give the right impetus to repeat animal welfare conditions in other trade agreements, especially where a beef quota is negotiated. Why would a feedlot in Mercosur countries be sustainable, but not in New Zealand? Omitting such a condition when renegotiating the EU-Mercosur FTA would certainly be incoherent.

Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals

The EU-New Zealand FTA is also the first EU trade deal integrating sanctions in its Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter. While this is welcome, the language is non-committal, specifically for provisions related to wild and aquatic animals, with words that focus on “acknowledgement” or “support”. This means that even in case of failure to comply with these provisions, no violation can be found.  

Apart from the animal welfare condition, the FTA also includes a chapter on animal welfare cooperation. Regrettably, the language in this chapter remains weak and also non-committal. This is unfortunate as the EU and New Zealand, two like-minded partners, could work together on issues such as banning live transport which is under discussion as highlighted by the European Parliament’s resolution. For these reasons, Eurogroup for Animals supports the European Parliament’s stand to “quickly establish the domestic advisory groups”, and remains ready to work in this fora to foster effective cooperation as soon as possible.